Bond helps Derby schools make playgrounds more accessible for students with special needs

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DERBY, Kan. Across the country, playgrounds are becoming more accessible to students with disabilities.

The more-accessible play spaces are a large part of the school bond in Derby that passed in February.

One student benefiting from a more accessible playground in Derby is Evan Johnson, a first grader at Park Hill Elementary School. Evan uses a wheelchair and before the addition of new equipment, that sometimes made it difficult for him to play on the playground with his sister, Emily.

"I couldn't go over here in the grass because it's hard for me to go all the way," Even demonstrated last week on his school's playground.

Now, recess is more fun for him, he says, because the school added an ADA-accessible music garden. An in-ground baby floor piano is the first of its kind in the country. Children can play it by running, jumping, or wheeling across the keys. They can follow along with a music book to play the xylophone and create music with emperor chimes by using their hands.

At Derby's El Paso Elementary School, third-grade student Denis Lanning also gets around in a wheelchair and enjoys playing in his school's new ADA-accessible playground.

"It's fun because there's stuff I can do," Lanning says.

The Derby school district reached out to Lanning's parents to find out what the third grader would like to play with at recess.

"They've created a fantastic place that our son and any other child with special needs or disabilities has the way to interact with all of their other peers and it's normal play, just like everyone else," says Lanning's father, Jonathan Lanning.

One way the school district made this possible was with accessible surfacing like turf and improved access into the play spaces including ramps.

Lanning's dad says this kind of playground helps other students create a better sense of understanding with classmates with special needs.

"Seeing that just because someone looks different or is in a slightly different circumstance, that doesn't mean that they're any different than us as people," Jonathan Lanning says.

All nine Derby elementary schools will have an ADA-accessible playground once bond construction is complete. Swaney Elementary School had one before the bond passed.

The district plans to work on the playgrounds each summer until they are complete.